By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) — The Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation has been looking much better of late, and now Gerrit Cole is returning.
Cole will be back on the mound after a three-week absence due to shoulder fatigue when the surging Pirates go for another victory over the last-place New York Mets on Saturday.
However, Brandon Cumpton has been sent to the minors.
Pittsburgh (41-39) has won six of seven games behind a 2.16 ERA from the starters, almost two runs below its season mark that ranks near the bottom of the NL.
That recent success includes a pair of impressive performances from Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton, who combined to allow three runs in 14 innings to lead the Pirates to wins in the first two games of this four-game series.
Cumpton went seven innings Friday and allowing two runs before Josh Harrison’s walkoff double gave the Pirates a 3-2, 11-inning win.
Cole (6-3, 3.64 ERA) will pitch for the first time since allowing one run with six strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-1 victory at San Diego on June 3.
The right-hander was 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA over his last four starts before going on the disabled list. He’s 4-0 with a 2.68 ERA in his past seven home games dating to 2013.
Cole, though, was charged with a 4-2 loss in his only meeting with the Mets on July 14, giving up three runs with five strikeouts in five innings.
He won’t have to contend with David Wright, who was scratched Friday due to a sore left shoulder and is headed back to New York for an MRI. The All-Star third baseman has batted .385 with eight RBIs over his past 10 games.
That stretch included two hits and an RBI the last time Jonathon Niese (4-4, 2.78) took the mound.
The left-hander finally got some help while winning for the first time in six starts Sunday, allowing three runs in six innings and getting plenty of run support in an 11-5 win at Miami. He’d received three or fewer runs in 11 of his first 14 starts this season.
Niese also helped himself with a successful suicide squeeze, while giving up fewer than four runs for the 19th straight start.
“It was a good feeling,” Niese said of the run support. “It’s a lot more comfortable going out there, and you’re able to pound the zone.”
He’s certainly done that in his two games at Pittsburgh, winning both while allowing two runs in 12 2-3 innings. His most recent matchup with the Pirates came at home May 27, when he gave up two runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-2 victory, though he didn’t get a decision.
Andrew McCutchen is 4 for 10 with two doubles against Niese. The star center fielder has one hit in each of the first two games of this series and is batting .347 with eight homers and 25 RBIs in 25 games this month.
He’s gone 10 for 25 over his past seven meetings with the Mets (36-44).
Pittsburgh acquired Ernesto Frieri in a trade Friday, sending Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels in a deal involving a pair of struggling former closers.
Frieri had a career-high 37 saves with a 3.80 ERA last year, but has blown three of 14 save opportunities while posting a 6.39 ERA in 2014.
“We’ve had success bringing guys in and having them benefit from a change of scenery,” general manager Neal Huntington said.
Updated June 28, 2014
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